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Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger ran off Campbell-Williams Field “really confused and frustrated” following the Longhorns’ 23-20 loss to Iowa State when UT’s Big 12 conference title hopes essentially evaporated.
Then, he and the remaining Longhorn players practiced on Sunday.
The world inside the Moncrief Complex was no doubt rocked when those Big 12 dreams went away, but the world did not end. Despite his currently tenuous hold on the Texas head coaching job and UT brass ramping up pursuit of free-agent coach Urban Meyer, Tom Herman and his ten assistants (seven of them new, including two coordinators) ran practice.
Texas’ College Football Playoff hopes left town long ago. Big 12 title hopes left this past weekend. Herman could be leaving the Austin city limits next. Still, Texas has two games remaining, and those who plan to play, plan to win.
“If you truly love the game of football and you love your teammates and you love this program, and you’re doing it for the right reasons, every game matters because it’s another opportunity to play the game that you love,” Ehlinger said Tuesday. “I think every game matters regardless of what you’re playing for.”
Ehlinger’s words should not be construed as a public rebuke of juniors Samuel Cosmi and Caden Sterns, who both opted out earlier this week to prepare for the NFL Draft. Ehlinger said he was “thankful for both of them” and “can’t be mad at them” because of the impact both had on his life.
Rather, it’s an indication that even if Texas is out of the national conversation for on-field matters, if Longhorn fans are more worried about private aviation and Meyer’s whereabouts than game results, and if some players are ready to prepare for their future, most of the Longhorn locker room wants to win the final two games.
“This season isn’t finished, and they deserve to have my all and for me to give my best,” senior Ta’Quon Graham said Tuesday. “Until the final seconds tick off the clock of the last game, I’m going to give them all I got. That’s what they deserve.”
Ehlinger had similar sentiments: “It’s unfortunate, and I would love to be competing for a championship. That was always something I wanted to do here, but I will never take my foot off the gas just because that’s out of sight.”
It is not just the players, either. Offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich was asked Wednesday if he planned on giving snaps to back-up quarterbacks Casey Thompson or Hudson Card on Saturday in Manhattan considering where the Longhorns are in the Big 12 title picture.
His answer illustrated the program’s view.
“We have not,” Yurcich replied. “I understand how there could be a lot of benefit towards that, but we’ve got to win these ballgames. Sam’s our guy. We’re giving him the reps, and we’re going to give him the best chance to make the most out of a great career and finish this thing strong.”
In a sport where only one championship exists for 130 teams, it’s understandable to possibly check out, especially for two games against the Big 12’s Kansas institutions. But a defensive lineman can’t check out on the season or else it’ll be patently obvious. Don’t expect to see a checked-out No. 49 in Manhattan on Saturday, nor in Lawrence a week after that.
“I’m kind of honed into these last two games because right now these next two games, they mean everything to me.” Graham said.
Same with No. 11.
“It’s unfortunate, and I would love to be competing for a championship,” Ehlinger said. “That was always something I wanted to do here, but I will never take my foot off the gas just because that’s out of sight.”